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Patrol volunteers are eyes and ears for Island County deputies

Volunteers with the Island County Sheriff
Volunteers with the Island County Sheriff's Citizen Patrol offer support services for the sheriff's department. South Precinct co-captain Walt Cartwright does a vacation check -- one of the patrol's duties -- in Langley.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

When Tess Marcin and Walt Cartwright go on patrol in a green Island County Sheriff's vehicle, they aren't armed but they are on duty and just a radio call away from a deputy.

Marcin and Cartwright are co-captains of the Island County Sheriff's Citizen Patrol for the south precinct in Freeland. Along with 45 to 50 other South Whidbey volunteers they backup deputies by manning offices, patrolling roads and checking homes and businesses. In the three precincts--south, north and Camano Island--there are a total of 150 citizen volunteers.

The program has been in place since 1995 and the number of volunteers has grown every year.

"We are very lucky to have these volunteers. Without them, there wouldn't be a south precinct office open to the public. The office volunteers handle requests from the public and perform clerical functions, said Jan Smith, chief administrative deputy for the sheriff's office.

"On the roads they are the eyes and ears for deputies who can't be everywhere," Smith said.

In 2002, volunteers contributed 9,500 hours in Island County; in dollars that's a value to the county of at least $7,000. So far this year, volunteers have worked 4,900 hours.

"To figure the dollar amount we use the minimum wage $7.10, but these people are performing tasks at a far greater level than entry level wages," Smith said.

Specific citizen's patrol duties include business checks, residential vacation and vacant house checks, welfare contacts for citizens, to provide a presence during community activities and traffic control during emergencies.

South Whidbey volunteers patrol 75 square miles from Houston Road on the northend to the Clinton ferry.

"The southend lends itself nicely to citizen patrols. The average age of southend residents is 40, so many people are retired or at least semi-retired.

"They want to continue using skills learned in their careers and contribute to the community. Our volunteers come from all walks of life. We have retired teachers, attorneys and housewives. They are not all of the same economic or educational level, but they work well with each other," Smith said.

To become part of the citizen's patrol, volunteers are required to undergo a substantial amount of training, including a 40-hour academy with classroom and field work, driver training and additional classes of first aid and CPR training. Many of the volunteers are graduates of the 55-Alive defensive driving class sponsored AARP.

A new service provided by volunteers is fingerprinting.

Anyone requiring background checks can have their fingerprints "rolled" at the south precinct now. The volunteers are also in charge of the new Radar Reader board.

During the Island County Fair, volunteers will be putting together children identity kits for parents. The kits will include a photo, finger prints, height and weight of their child.

For Marcin and Cartwright the volunteer experience is about doing something that is interesting and a benefit for their community.

"I have always been fascinated by police work. I feel guilty because I enjoy this so much" Cartwright said.

Although volunteers do not put themselves in dangerous situations, they do call in any problems or suspicious circumstances to deputies. Volunteers typically patrol for a four to five hour shift with a specific list of addresses to check. Once those are checked, they will patrol parks, beaches, bus stops and other areas at the request of deputies.

A recent ride along with Cartwright and Marcin provided a typical volunteer patrol experience.

Patrol volunteers always travel in pairs. While one leaves the vehicle to make sure doors are secure, the other stays inside the car.

"If one of us is out of sight, we will use a walkie talkie to communicate," said Marcin who also coordinates the office volunteers for the south precinct.

Several weeks ago while conducting a vacation check, Marcin and Cartwright discovered an unlocked door.

Cartwright said, "it gave us quite a start."

"With an unlocked door, we assume someone who shouldn't be there is inside," Marcin said.

In that instance we left the premises while calling a deputy and park down the street where we have good visibility of the house and wait for law enforcement."

"We haven't caught a burglar yet," Cartwright said.

In another case, volunteers spotted a stolen vehicle and were able to radio that information to deputies.

On South Whidbey the volunteers are always present at outdoor events like festivals and concerts. In most cases the public appreciate the volunteers.

"A lot of people stop and talk to us to let us know they appreciate what we do," Marcin said.

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